Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Living in the Library

Cathy Pickens holds the official Sisters in Crime "Great Seal of Office" in the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, shortly after her election in mid-October as national SinC president.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Parshall.

Living in the Library
by Cathy Pickens

When I was three years old, my parents did one of the most amazing things they moved to a house with a library smack at the end of the driveway.

Imagine, your very own library! That's what it felt like. My own library. We could check out as many books as we could carry. (Later, when we walked down the long driveway on our own, having to carry our books back up the hill became a consideration.)

As soon as we finished reading, more books were waiting. Well, with one notable exception: Nancy Drew books weren't considered a suitable use for scarce library funds ("lacking in literary merit" or some such excuse).

That library funding rule has, unfortunately, driven me to a lifelong addiction. I was forced to scout out Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books when my allowance permitted me to feed my habit. As a result, I still buy embarrassing quantities of books. So far, there are no 12-step programs for this addiction, or my husband and I would be involuntarily committed. (Please dont tell me if you know of such a program!)

The "library ladies," as they were known (forgive me, it was a long time ago), also fed another passion. At the age of 11, when I learned people could grow up and write mysteries, the library supplied me with copies and back issues of Writers Digest and The Writer and how-to-write books. Once, when the librarians were purging the collection to make room, they gave me old copies of The Writers Handbook and Writers Market. Oh, joy! I poured over them.

As a result of all my study, I sent my first short story my last attempt at science fiction to Jack and Jill magazine. It was promptly, but very politely, rejected with a personalized letter from the Editor-in-Chief. That was the last personalized rejection I would get for many years but, thanks to the education the librarians provided for me, I knew that rejection was part of the writer's life and that personal rejections were to be coveted as a sign of progress. I kept writing.

You might not have been lucky enough to live at the library but, if you are a reader, I bet a librarian somewhere has given you unexpected gifts. Make it a point some day soon to thank a librarian for letting you check out all the books you can carry.

And librarians: Who knows what that strange little round-headed kid who comes in all the time might grow up to be? A reader, for sure. Maybe a writer. Or any of a world of wonderful things.

So, to all librarians, from one of those kids: Thanks!

Cathy Pickens, the national president of Sisters in Crime, is the author of the award-winning Southern Fried mystery series featuring South Carolina attorney Avery Andrews. The most recent title in the series is "Cant Never Tell."


Marcia Talley said...

I was a military kid, moving all over the world, never living anywhere more than two or three years. We had books at home -- Nancy Drew! Trixie Belden! Cherry Ames! a pirated Taiwanese version of the Encyclopedia Britannica with all references to mainland China blanked out! -- but not nearly enough to feed my habit. I usually had two books going: the upstairs book and the downstairs book. The first thing Mom would do when we moved to a new duty station was enroll us in school; the second, sign up for our library cards. It was a librarian in California who suggested I read Agatha Christie when I'd run through all of the Nancy Drews on my list! Is that why I became a librarian myself? Who knows, but before I "retired" to write full time, that's what I did for 30-some years. Paying it Forward.

Linda Leszczuk said...

I wasn't fortunate enough to live near a library as a kid but we had something almost as good...the bookmobile. This traveling branch of our local library came around every three weeks and brought the wonders of free books to just a block away. I can still remember the excitement and anticipation of 'bookmobile day'.

Anonymous said...

My hometown library owned Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Cherry Ames--as a child I was able to supply my habit from their shelves quite happily. Then when the unthinkable happened and I'd gone through those books, I wandered downstairs to the adult fiction area and discovered Mary Stewart and Agatha Christie and later Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.
I loved to read, and read constantly (and still do), but I also loved the theatre and drama. I grew up thinking I'd teach theatre and spent a number of years working towards that goal. A funny thing happend on the way to that first teaching job. I took a part time job at a library and stayed there, even after finishing grad school in theatre studies. I've never looked back.

Vicki Lane said...

How lucky you were!

I had to wait for the weekly trips when my parents or grandparents would take me and I would check out as many books as the librarian would allow. I can remember reading in snatches as the car passed under street lights on the way home.

Hurrah for libraries!

Rochelle Staab said...

I was an avid Nancy Drew reader and collector but my first reading experiences were at my local library, four blocks from our house. My Mom let me wander the neighborhood at will and I spent many summers reading there. I discovered mystery, travel, and biographies of strong famous women. The books opened up the world to me.

Some of my fondest memories were of the Finney library and to this day whenever I walk into a library, I feel happy and at home.

Thanks for stirring up these happy memories, Cathy.

Writer Lady said...

We walked 5 or 6 blocks to the library. My Dad took me with him when he returned his books. It was built in an cross shape with the librarian in the middle. I very quickly knew I didn't want to read the picture books.

Later, someone gave up their classics library and gave them to us to give to an orphanage. I read every one (even those not suitable for children) before they left the house.

Buy an eReader. The books are cheaper and no one knows how many you're reading at once.

Phoebe said...

I grew up right behind the local library! My parents still live in their old house, and we still go through the library's back door (the house is 15 ft from the library!). Plus, I still get to check out books on my "old" card, lol, even though I live 5000 miles away!